Looking through the list of games to be released this year, I came to the realization that it might be a great year for real time strategy games, a genre that's fallen out of popularity - something that I often mourn as I grew up with the genre, playing Age of Empires 2 and StarCraft: Brood War whenever I had the chance.
At the moment, StarCraft 2 is the only game to fill the gap unless you want to count games like Dota 2 (a game which I've described as WarCraft 3 where you only control one unit: an orc grunt), and Blizzard are not doing a great job at it. Right off the bat they removed a lot of cool units (vulture, lurker, defiler, reaver, arbiter) and added a bunch of one-dimensional boring units to replace them (hellions, roaches, infestors, colossi, void rays), and it's taken them 2 years to implement the long sought after community and UI features like clans and advanced statistics.
2013 is the release date of three RTS titles: Command & Conquer (the reboot), Company of Heroes 2 and StarCraft 2's first expansion. In addition, there is a chance the Kickstarter title Planetary Annihilation could also be released within the end of the year.
Command & Conquer looks really promising judging by fan reactions and the few videos that are out. I'm still waiting for my beta invite, but I'm still really excited. The only thing that worries me is that it's going to be free to play, so it might go the AoEO route of requiring a bunch of microtransactions in order to make it possible to play competitively online. However, with eSports being such a buzzword for game developers these days, I'm feeling sure that the developers will have some sort of solution to this in the game.
I never really played Company of Heroes, and I regret it because it's supposed to be really good. Even as late as last year I watched a few tournament casts, but didn't understand anything that was going on, of course. It doesn't seem like the developers are going to screw up badly in the making of the sequel, so I'm hoping for a solid introduction to the series and a solid RTS overall.
Planetary Annihilation sets out to be a mix of Total Annihilation and the more recent Supreme Commander series. Total Annihilation passed me by when I was younger, but I did play a bit of Supreme Commander. The concept definitely has appeal, but at least Supreme Commander never seemed to work out in multiplayer. And honestly, even if Planetary Annihilation doesn't prove to be a competitive multiplayer title, its singleplayer should still be entertaining as hell.
In the end, though, I don't think any of these titles can match the wide appeal of StarCraft 2 as its first expansion, Heart of the Swarm, is less than two months away. Despite the fact that the game designers seem to be completely out of touch with what makes a good RTS game, they're saved by the fact that they're committed to the old and simple RTS formula: Build your economy, build your base, build your army - the simple principles that make games like StarCraft: Brood War, WarCraft 3 and Age of Empires 2 still playable today. HOTS is not the big step forward for SC2 that I was hoping it would be, but it's still going to be the most successful of 2013's RTS releases.
I bought Painkiller: Hell & Damnation on a whim when it was released on October 31, along with Natural Selection. I've always been a fan of old-school shooters, and have fond memories of Painkiller and thought that I'd like to support games like these.
My love for these types of games goes back to my childhood, where I'd play Doom and Doom clones whenever I could - I'd be scared shitless and get stuck because I was too afraid to go any further, but that just made it an even more awe-inspiring experience. Later in life, I've played through Doom and Doom 2 tenfolds of times, and still like to go back to Doom 2 for its simple and cathartic gameplay.
Painkiller kind of reignites that fire in me, but not quite, and don't be misled - Painkiller HD is not a huge improvement from the original, it's simply a cheap graphical improvement, maybe for the developers to show off or to have something to build on in the future? Time will tell, but I have to say that the execution is so good that further development of the franchise would make me really happy.
So, Painkiller HD is a remake of the original Painkiller, using the modern Unreal 3 engine. A lot of content has also been stripped out - I never managed to finish the original, but I'd say about half the levels are cut out. This doesn't really end up hurting the game, the pacing is just about right and there's a lot of replay value with an unlockable difficulty and power-ups (tarot cards).
Painkiller HD's main flaw is maybe that it stayed too true to the original, and so it has many of the same flaws. The thing I really don't like about Painkiller, which makes Doom 2 the game I keep going back to for this kind of experience, is the level design. Enemies will spawn seemingly anywhere in the level, and very rarely do you get the chance to gather a group of enemies in a tight choke to kill them all with a few rockets without being stabbed in the back by an enemy that just spawned. This holds especially true in the Insomnia and Trauma difficulties, where a few attacks easily can halve your health.
The redeeming factors are, of course, the awesome weapons, the fact that you can bunnyjump while shooting around, the huge-ass boss fights and generally the feeling of being a badass. I would like to recommend the game, but I'm not sure if I can recommend spending €20 on it. It's definitely not for everyone - but more than everything I hope that the developers have some kind of plan for Painkiller in the future, because if you remove some of the Painkiller "traditions" like constantly spawning enemies, I think you'd get a really, really entertaining game, and not just for the enthusiasts like me.
Recently a conversation on IRC got me thinking about how Quake Live can me improved to make for a better eSport. I definitely think Quake is one of the concepts that fit best for a potential mainstream eSports - it's one vs one in a game that requires both aim and strategy, and the gameplay often speaks for itself, so it doesn't require commentators talking 24/7 like StarCraft 2 does.
There are many problems with Quake Live that have fairly simple fixes, mostly related to the UI or business model, but is there something that can be done with the actual gameplay to make it a more enjoyable eSports?
My main issue with Quake is the format of the duel game mode. People do not want to watch 10 minutes of one-sidedness, but they often have to because small skill differences make for big score differences. The matches that have you sitting on the edge of your seat of excitement about who will win are few and far inbetween, and the chances for the finals of a tournament being one of them are slim to none.
Simply put, you need a way to make matches less one-sided, or a way to make one-sided matches shorter.
An idea I like for achieving this is having a point-capture system built into the duel mode - random areas of each map have capture points that appear with certain intervals, and players can hold them for something like 10-15 seconds to score a point, and these are what determines the winner rather than the actual frag count. As soon as a player is 5 points up on their opponent, they win the duel, or the player with the most points after 10 minutes (or a certain number of captures) wins. Capture points appear something like after the first 45 seconds have passed, and then a new one appears 20 seconds after the previous one was successfully captured.
This would not only make one-sided matches shorter, it would also introduce an interesting trade-off that would even out matches somewhat - the player capturing a point is giving up map control and item control while capturing the point, giving the opponent a chance to get back into the game. You could say that after scoring a point, your opponent has "the serve". Maybe this would create some arbitrary comebacks or create some sort of autohandicap for the losing player, but I'm sure the timers could be tweaked to find some sort of balance.
I pre-ordered Guild Wars 2 a while back, which gave me a weekend of beta access where I tried to get a grasp of the game mechanics.
The character creation process is very in-depth and gives a ton of customization options, but some parts seem a bit unnecessary. For example, I made an elementalist and said that my main element would be fire, but it didn't seem to negatively effect my air/water/earth spells nor give me something extra in the fire arsenal.
The game itself starts off a little bit dull, with an early boss battle that feels a little forced. You're only a level 1 character, you shouldn't be dealing with huge threats quite yet, but whatever. There's one main quest that's very linear and standard as well as side quests.
The side quest (might even not call it quests because they're so different from other RPGs) system is really nice - rather than having a huge quest log with every quest you've accepted, you activate a quest when you walk near the quest giver. When you finish the quest you receive a mail containing a small money reward, and you can talk to the quest giver to receive some free stuff and buy special wares.
In addition to this, there are "events" that are started somewhat randomly around the map. Any time there's one started near you, you get a notification and it's shown on your mini-map. Events can be something like hold off x waves of enemies, escort a NPC to a certain location or destroy enemy barricades.
Your first few skills are unlocked not as you level up, but rather as you kill enemies - doesn't make that big of a difference as you'll unlock your first few skills rather quickly anyway, but it does offer a nice progression. Instead of me receiving a new fire, air and earth spell at level 8, I get a new fire spell when I've killed some enemies with fire spells, then an air spell when I've killed some enemies with air spells and so on - allowing me to discover the new spells one at the time.
Later on you unlock spells via skill points which can be earned by leveling up or earning them by completing challenges around the world - something like defeat an extra strong mob. However, you're pretty restricted in what skills you can equip - you have 5 main spells that vary depending on what weapon you're carrying, but you can't remove them in favour of the stronger spells you earn via skill points. In addition you can equip one healing skill, three utility skills (you start with one, then two at lv20, three at lv30) and one elite skill (at lv40?). In GW1 you could choose any 8 skills you wanted - GW2 feels a little restrictive in this sense.
Another thing I really miss from GW1 is the appearance. GW1 had a very distinct look where everything glowed and things were very colourful, and that really is missing from GW2. Even at max settings it doesn't look as good as I can remember GW1 being - and that's really offputting.
All in all, I think the game is looking good. The ideas are fresh and I'm definitely looking forward to putting time into an RPG again - but there are a few concerns I have about the gameplay and feel removing itself a bit from GW1, which might stop me from playing before I hit the endgame. I'm not sure - time will tell.